Big second half keys Southeastern over C. Arkansas

CONWAY, Ark. — The red-hot Southeastern Louisiana Lions continued their winning ways on the road, thumping the Central Arkansas Bears 58-31 on Saturday night at Estes Stadium.

Southeastern (8-2, 5-0 Southland Conference) won a conference road game for the third time in four weeks and maintained its place atop the Southland standings.

The Lions, ranked No. 16 in the Sports Network poll, dominated in the second half and gave Central Arkansas just its second loss in three seasons on its home turf.

“They play very well at home, and they gave us all kinds of fits in the first half,” Lions coach Ron Roberts said. “We kind of broke the game open in the third quarter with some big plays.”

The Lions defense and special teams led to three third-quarter touchdowns, as they blew open what was a close game at the half.

In fact, the Bears had a great chance to send the game into halftime tied, but the Lions stopped Central Arkansas on third and fourth downs from the Southeastern 1, and the Lions took a 24-17 lead into the locker room.

On the goal-line stand, Drew Misita and John Andrews combined to stuff Central Arkansas’ Taylor Reed on a quarterback sneak on third down, and Andrews and John Graves stuffed Willie Matthews at the 1 on fourth down, as the Lions reversed the momentum.

Harlan Miller opened the scoring in the second half for Southeastern, intercepting Ryan Howard and weaving his way for a 48-yard touchdown return.

Central Arkansas quickly drove deep into Southeastern territory before its drive stalled. Cqulin Hubert broke through the line and blocked Eddie Camara’s 35-yard field goal try, and Denzel Thompson returned it to the Bears 46. On the next play, Marquis Hayes took a sweep 46 yards for a touchdown, and Southeastern led 38-17.

On the ensuing possession, Justin Church sacked and stripped Howard, and recovered the fumble for Southeastern at the Central Arkansas 17.

Four plays later, Bryan Bennett ran in from 4 yards out to make it 45-17.

“That was a big-time stop, right before halftime,” Roberts said. “In the third quarter, we just kind of pulled away. I thought we played well (defensively) all night. I think we have a very good defensive line, and we’re playing good run defense right now. That’s what you have to do to be successful in November.”

Central Arkansas got within 45-24 on Reed’s 39-yard scoring toss to Dezmin Lewis. The Bears then held the Lions to a three-and-out and took over at their 40. But Howard was sacked by Church and Greg Triay on third down and the Bears had to punt. Southeastern then went 70 yards for a touchdown, with Bennett covering the final seven on a scoring run to make it 51-24.

Bennett beat the Bears with his arm and his feet, rushing for 129 yards and two touchdowns, while passing for 175 yards and a pair of scores. Bennett increased his rushing touchdown total to 13, just one shy of the single-season school record. Roberson added 80 rushing yards, and as a team Southeastern rushed for 343, a season high.

“He made some huge plays with his feet, and throwing it,” Roberts said of Bennett. “We had some running backs with some nice runs. We still have some room for improvement, but we played hard.

The Lions set the tone immediately in a wild first half, with Xavier Roberson taking the opening kick 90 yards untouched for a touchdown.

The Bears responded with a quick strike, as Howard hit Damien Watts for a 31-yard score. Each team scored touchdowns on its first two possessions before Central Arkansas forced the game’s first punt.

Central Arkansas (2-3, 5-5) got 310 passing yards and four touchdowns from Howard and Reed combined, but struggled in its run game.